Four go to Iceland – Day 6: Mopping-up (Final Day)

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Today is our last full day here, so it’s a bit of a ‘mopping-up’ day covering places that are popular with Tourists that we hadn’t covered on previous days-out. To start with, we’re heading down to the south-west corner of Iceland and Grindavik then maybe the Blue Lagoon (spot the Tourist!) and Viking World. After a quick breakfast at 9, we were out by 10, ready to soak-up some more of Iceland’s remaining landscape.



I’m in the navigator’s seat today with Ralph taking the wheel. It was a glorious day – easily the best day we’ve had here weather-wise – a cool 5 degrees rising to 8 later on – cold but sunny and dry!

Around 30 minutes into the journey, we passed a gorgeous lake on our left – Kleifarvatn – too beautiful NOT to take a photograph.. or ten!



Click on the panoramic above for a larger version




‘The Lake’ – Kleifarvatn

Then it was onwards to our first ‘official’ stop – The Geothermal area in Seltun







“Stinky Seltun”
It’s a good job cameras don’t record smells as it was disgusting! (to me, a cross between sweaty armpits and a forgotten toilet!) Lovely view though!



Click on the panoramic above for a larger version

We paused for a short pitstop in Grindavik (almost the furthest south-western point for a quick drink and a nibble. I say ‘quick’ but we were unlucky enough to get behind ‘Class 5b’ (all 31 of them) queuing for ice-cream with a shed-load of toppings (from fresh strawberries to Maltesers!!!) – if only I wasn’t on Lent!! Then we realised we were in the wrong queue! Doh! Still, it gave us time to have a short conversation with their Brit School-teacher about how school trips have changed over the years!

Next stop was the Hopnes Lighthouse at Grindavik. It took a while to find the correct gravel road, but Ralph did a great job in navigating the holes in the road with its twist and turns. The spookiest part of our short and bumpy journey there was parts of shipwrecked err, ships strewn here and there – and there were quite a few of them! It made us realise how dangerous this coastal area is/was.



Surely the shortest Lighthouse in the world!?

Joining the list of things-you-don’t-normally-find-on-the-beach was (we think) part of a whale-bone!

This had been a surreal experience – the spooky shipwrecks, combined with the grey landscape all topped-off with the shortest, most brightly coloured Lighthouse I think we’ve ever seen.

Next up was Viking Worlda smallish museum celebrating the history of Iceland and the Icelandic people. Just time for some traditional Icelandic Fish Soup before we look round.







The highlight of the Museum was the ship The Islendingur – a perfect copy of a Viking ship, built and captained by one, Gunnar Marel Eggertsson, who sailed it all the way to New York in 2000, in part, to show that the Vikings discovered America long before Columbus.

A great Museum! Very comprehensive and nice staff too!



Back in the car, we headed for our final stop for the day – Geology time – a short drive to the tectonic plates in the south-west corner of Iceland, near Hafnir.



This site was highly significant in geological terms. It’s the ‘bridge’ between the North American and Eurasian plate and very unusual to see these plates above the ground.





Phew! impressive, or what! And that now-familiar grey soil was as dramatic as ever. By now, it was 4.15pm and we were all feeling ‘geologied-out’. We called it a day and headed back to the Hotel. We never did get round to seeing the major attraction in Iceland – The Blue Lagoon – but we learned you had to pre-book (and we hadn’t) so maybe that’s for next time!




After a quick freshen-up, it was round to ours where we cracked open some bubbly (me on water though!) to celebrate this great holiday. Some 300 photographs and 1100 kilometres later, it’s been a great break, and the landscape of this island has been simply jaw-dropping!


One last look across the Old Harbour

Tonight, as it was our final evening-meal here in Iceland and we decided to eat in town. We drove in and parked in the flat car-park near the old Harbour. We then took a gentle stroll, taking in the sights of the Harbour one last time and sussing the menus of the various restaurants before settling on Kopar, a rather busy-looking fish restaurant.

We weren’t disappointed! As has become the norm out here, the menu was imaginative and subsequently delicious in equal measure! Again the service was first-class too!




And by 9.30 it was all over! We strolled back to the car and by 9.45 we were safely parked up in the underground car-park (for the last time) at the Hotel.

It really has been a fantastic experience here in Iceland – the country has exceeded all our expectations (apart from tourist-related road signage!) and I’m sure we’ll be back. Hopefully the exchange-rate will be a little more in our favour next time though! Now we have to return to the mundane task of getting packed. We’re on a late flight tomorrow and should be back in front of the washing and ironing on Sunday!


See you again Iceland!


Four go to Iceland – Day 5: Golden Circle Trail (Part 2)

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After yesterday’s very pleasant experiences during our stalking of Tourists, sorry, Golden Circle Expedition, today, it’s more of the same, as we visit some more famous tourist sights of Iceland.

We decided to head out earlier, in theory, to beat the rush. So, not much of a lie-in as it was brekky at 8.30. It was my turn to get behind the wheel with Ralph acting as my Wingman.

Today’s target was Thingvellir and then Gullfoss (another waterfall, but it’s so big, it’s got its own website). Weather-wise, we seemed to have our best day to-date where the temperature is already 4 degrees (and would rise to 11 degrees later, before settling back to around 7!).

On the drive to Thingvellir there were some great views of the Icelandic landscape – the brighter weather helped, but they were great nonetheless.




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Back on the road, forty-five minutes later, we arrived at Thingvellir, where apparently so too had most of Iceland!! The car-park was almost full but we managed to eventually find a space.


 

Some stunning views…
 






So, what’s so special about Thingvellir. Well, for those born in Iceland, this place is significant because it’s where the oldest Parliament in the world first assembled, in 930AD – it’s therefore seen as the spiritual home of Icelanders. It is also where the country became independent (from Denmark) in 1944. Geologically speaking, it’s unusual too as the area is made up of a canyon formed between two tectonic plates – a visual representation of the term: continental drift. 

Suitably educated and moved by the stunning views, we headed back to the car and our next stop – Gullfoss Falls.


On arrival, we discovered this was another popular destination – and consequently, the car-park was –again – also almost full. We parked-up and headed for the restaurant for a light lunch. A popular choice was the Lamb Stew – probably the most expensive bowl of soup we’ve ever eaten though!

With lunch over, it was time to head for the main attraction – The waterfall. It was only around a ten-minute walk from the restaurant, and we weren’t to be disappointed. Here comes that word again…

WOW!!!



Easily as dramatic as Niagara Falls, maybe even more so! Was it worth the trip? Sure was!!!!

Time to return to the Hotel. However, instead of taking the most direct route, we took the slightly more picturesque view (with better roads!) via Selfoss.


(Very) Happy Hour
We arrived back at base just after 4pm. Just time for a quick change of clothes, and appreciation of the Hotel’s Happy Hour (4 until 7) before walking into town for tonight’s evening meal. What a beautiful evening! It was still cold, but this was a lot more manageable – and I didn’t need gloves nor a hat!
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After looking at a few menus, we settled for Primo – one of the many Italian restaurants here in the town. The food was superb, but the serving-staff spoilt the overall impression by bringing out the main course before we’d finished our starters – I hate that!
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Primo’s

Our window-seat allowed us a good view of the town, but especially the sky, and it was then we noticed how clear (and blue) it was.
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The Local Church

A quick check of my Aurora App indicated that we were in with a good chance of seeing ‘the lights’ tonight. So, after the meal we headed back to the Hotel, grabbed our cameras and drove to the nearest ‘dark sky’ area: Grotta Lighthouse. It paid off! – and the speed at which the area where we parked filled up, indicated that the locals knew something too! We didn’t have too wait long for things to start to happen, and after around 40 minutes, the phenomena started to form in the sky


Worth the wait!

All I can say is (you’ve guessed it)…

WOW!!!

Even the photographs can’t really do the experience justice. It was a very weird feeling seeing the colours blend and dart across the sky – there one second, gone the next.

Tomorrow, Friday, is our last full day here, and I think we’re unlikely to top The Lights for their ‘wow-factor’. We’ve done many of the ‘big’ attractions and so we’re off to the area near the Blue Lagoon and the south-west coast, taking in Viking World.

Four go to Iceland – Day 4: Golden Circle Trail (Part 1)

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Today, we’re doing what every tourist does in Iceland – heading towards The Golden Circle.

DSCN1510 Heading for the Golden Circle (right, up and down a bit from Reykjavik)

It’s the area north-east/south-east of Reykjavik and promises to take in some grand sights including: Geysers, Waterfalls and a National Park. It’s a mammoth area to cover and so we’re going to pace ourselves and split the trail into two halves. It’s also a massive tourist attraction and so we expect everywhere to be heaving!

We left around 11ish accompanied by dry and crisp weather. As usual the roads were pretty much deserted once we got out of Reykjavik – Nice!

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Around halfway there, we saw a pulling-in point with a stunning view. Once we’d parked the car and read the information board, we realised that we’d picked the area that had ‘the only view in Iceland of ALL its volcanoes’. Smile

DSCN1516 Best view of ALL the Volcanoes. Click on the pic for a larger view

Back on the trail, just after 12.30 we arrived at our first stop: the volcanic crater – Kerio. Half of Iceland was already ahead of us based on the number of coaches and how full the car-park was! Still, the queue was short and having paid our admission fee (400Kr each), we were soon making the short climb around the circumference of the beast! I’ve used the word ‘Wow’ a lot during our Iceland visit but…

WOW!

To give you a sense of size, it took us around 30 minutes to walk round it – but it was worth every square inch – and yes, that’s mostly ice in the bottom.

And if walking around the top wasn’t a unique experience, we then headed down to the frozen water for the view from the bottom. Fab!

Another very pleasant assault on the senses! And maybe bizarrely, when we were at the bottom, you couldn’t hear a thing – no talking, no birdsong, no nothing! The crater was acting as a giant sound-barrier to everything ‘outside’. A very eerie sensation!

After all that, a pitstop was in order, so we drove to the next part of the Trail: the Geysir Hot Springs in err, Geysir. First stop though, a brief pitstop. Whilst Ann, Karen and Ralph tucked into some very tasty cake, I ‘slummed it’ with some almost fat-free yoghurt drink – that tasted surprisingly good!

Then we were ready to take on the geysers! (having exhausted every permutation of geyser adjective on the short walk to their location: ‘dodgy’, ‘diamond’, ‘top’ etc). This was another area that was busy. In short there were a series of geysers, some small, some large, some quiet, some active. The only thing that outnumbered the people there were the number of phones being used to film the geysers! Some people had three phones – and one person was controlling a drone! The challenge was to try and guess the moment when the various geysers were about to erupt. A Dodgy Geyser!

The one that seemed to getting most attention was named Strokkur, mainly because of its regularity in erupting. Strokkur doing its thing! There must have been a hundred-or-so people standing, waiting for its eruption. Although I managed to bag a picture, it was soooooo cold, I wimped out and Ann and I headed for the warmth of the Gift Shop (whilst Ralph captured some more dramatic shots).

Puffins in their Natural Habitat – the Gift Shop!

Whoosh! We’re not sure where the time went today, but it was now 3.30 and that was it for Part 1 of our Golden Circle expedition. All we needed to do now was find somewhere for our evening meal. Ann came up trumps again with a suggestion – and we headed for the Icelandic Fish and Chips (link not working January 2020) near our Hotel. We arrived just before 5 and headed inside.

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We were soon seated and checking-out the menu and the Specials’ board. I opted for the Pollock on a Salad Bed with Fried Potatoes. An hour-or-so later, we eaten well (again!). Another fab meal! and the cheapest to-date!

We then took the short drive back to the Hotel where we settled in the Lounge for the next couple of hours catching up with our  blogs/books/magazines.

Tomorrow, it’s ‘Part Two’ of our Golden Circle experience and we’re hoping to see The Gulfoss Waterfall and Thingvellir National Park.

Four go to Iceland – Day 3: Go West!

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After yesterday’s southern expedition, today we headed West!. It was always going to be difficult to top yesterday’s experiences where we enjoyed some stunning scenery and kind weather, but we were up for anything that the western side of Iceland had to offer.

Initially, we had also planned to finish our day and try and see the Northern Lights tonight, but as the day wore-on, the increasing cloud meant that it was going to be impossible. Bah!
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After another lazy breakfast, we were all set – warm clothing: check, iron rations: check, paper and Google maps: check!

Our driver today was yours truly, with Ralph acting as navigator. We headed to the underground car-park, climbed aboard the hire car and headed for Borgarnes –  about an hour away – and our first pitstop at the scrupulously clean N1 Services.

After my Lent-friendly milk-shake, we headed back to the car for the next, longer chunk of our trek westwards – another hour-and-a-half of driving – including driving through the Hvalfjörður tunnel, some 6km long! After exiting the tunnel, the weather was changing: it was now colder and wetter!

Just before 2pm, we arrived at our first ‘official’ stop – Ann had spotted a very old wooden Church – ‘The Black Church’ – in her guide-book dating back to the 1700s and so we parked-up and had lunch. What a strange location for a Church! Miles away from anywhere and anyone!


The Church at Budir

The other slightly peculiar thing was that there were no gravestones from the same period as the Church – they were all a lot newer.

After a quick walk round the exterior of the Church, it was back in the car for our next leg – up and around the Snaefellsjoekull National Park – where the volcano – Snaefellsjoekull – from Jules Verne’s book: Journey to the Centre of the Earth was located.

The trouble was, there were so many mountains on this route, it was impossible to pick out the one one with its top missing! Never mind, onwards and upwards (literally) where it became obvious that it was good to have a car with AWD and studded tyres! It wasn’t the most pleasant of driving experiences – especially with the rain too – but good to say we’d done it.

After negotiating a few more twists and turns, we arrived at our most western point – Phew!

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‘Up West’

On our descent from the National Park, we saw a sign for a volcano – Saxholl – no mention of it in any of our Guide Books though!

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Upon closer inspection, it turned out to be (just) a ‘crater’. I’m not sure of the difference, but it looked very volcano-like to me!

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Our final stop of the day was probably the most dramatic – the area of the Snæfellsnes Peninsula – more specifically, the lava beach – Djupalonssandur. It was all very interesting but quite weird to see a beach that wasn’t the traditional sandy colour.

Perhaps even more interesting was that the beach was strewn with trawler wreckage from Grimsby! Here’s the story from the sign on the beach…

Click on the pic for a larger version

Very spooky! It made us realise how far our these Trawlers sailed – and in such treacherous conditions too!

It was now getting much colder, so we headed in the general direction of the Hotel. Ann spotted an interesting restaurant from her guide-book: The Settlement Centre Restaurant back in Borgarnes, so, with our Northern Lights event on hold, we decided to stop here for our evening meal.
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The Settlement Centre Restaurant

We weren’t disappointed! The service was great, the food delicious and the prices were a somewhat ‘friendlier’ that what we’ve become used to elsewhere in Iceland!

By 9.15pm we were back on the road. It was of course now dark and with Iceland’s inconsistent white-lining, no cat’s eyes and unfamiliar and sometimes narrower roads, the 50 minute journey back to the Hotel, was, to say the least ‘challenging’! It’s not something I’d want to do too often!

All-in-all, we had a great day. Although the weather had been disappointing, we’d seen some very unusual sights – ones that we’ll probably never experience again, and it made our 563 km round-trip worthwhile!
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Tomorrow, weather permitting, we’re going to cover the Golden Circle trail and we’ll probably make it a shorter day as I’ve got a bit of reading to catch-up with.

Four go to Iceland – Day 2: Heading South

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The focus today is to explore more of Iceland, but further afield than Reykjavik. Obviously, the key ‘event’ whilst we’re here will be to experience The Northern Lights but according to all the checks we’ve made, tomorrow and Wednesday are the two evenings where the chance of experiencing this phenomena are the highest. I just read Rhiannon’s post on Facebook (from last night) and she and Jake managed to see them before they flew home – so we’re cautiously optimistic!
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Back to today though: as has become the routine, our first task was to head down to breakfast for a quick nibble, but after yesterday morning’s experience of a ‘rugby scrum’ at 9.15, we were about an hour earlier today. Our earlier visit paid-off and breakfast was much more relaxing!

Suitably stuffed, by 8.45 we were on the road in our trusty Hyundai Tucson hire-car, ready for today’s mission – we’re heading south to explore the country – some 400 kilometres round-trip. Ralph drove today with me navigating.
 
With our more traditional map as well as Google Maps, we were ready to go, and by 9am, we were on the road heading for the southern-most populated village of Iceland – Vik, by way of (mostly) Highway 1.

 
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After a hour-or-so, it was a quick pitstop at KFC!

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No sign of the Colonel!

Once we were back in the car, one thing we immediately noticed, was that the weather was a vast improvement on yesterday. No sign of rain and those biting winds – instead, a very pleasant 3 degrees C (and rising). Even the view from the car whilst we drove along the (mostly deserted roads) looked inviting
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(Click on the individual pics for a larger version)

Our first major stop was the first of a number of waterfalls – Seljalandsfoss

Spectacular, doesn’t even begin to describe it! Wow!
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Back in the car to our next waterfall, we passed a field of Icelandic Horses – they’re like larger versions of Shetland Ponies!


Horsing around in Iceland

Another day, another waterfall! our next visit was Skogafoss This was much larger than the one at Seljalandsfoss, and if the previous was spectacular, this was even more-so! The temperature was now up to a very pleasant 7 degrees!

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Err, ‘Wow!’

I guess we were all ‘waterfalled-out’ now, and if we had been wowed by those watery scenes, nothing could have prepared us for our next stop – scenes at Dyrholaey.

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Err, ‘Wow!’ (again!)

Next stop was the Lighthouse at Dyrholaey
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On the short walk there we passed the spectacular view of The Black Beach

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The Black Beach in Vik

I refuse to overuse the word: ‘Wow!’ (nope, couldn’t resist it!!!)

Wow!

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Authentic local Icelandic ‘Greasy Spoon’

After blowing our senses with the scenery, we gave them a good rest and retreated to a local greasy-spoon in Vik for a quick nibble before heading for a restaurant that Ann had found in her local Guide Book in the town of Eyrarbakki – The Rauoa Husio (translates to ‘Red House).

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The Rauoa Husio Restaurant

This was a quiet unhurried affair and a family-owned business. The food and service was second-to-none and we were made to feel very welcome. As is normal with eating-out here, it costs way more than in England, but it really felt like it was worth every penny krona!
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Two hours later, content that we’d sampled the local fish and we headed for a quiet and dark spot to dress-rehearse our plans for seeing the Northern Lights later this week. Helpfully, our Server had pointed us in the right direction for a suitable location, and after a short drive, we were in position (and so was a coach-load of demented Japanese on tour). What they lacked in photography skills (no use using a flash in these conditions), they made up for in noise – and lying on the ground to get the best view of the sky. Equally though, my photography skills weren’t up to the mark either, as although we saw a brief display of the Lights, I wasn’t able to capture anything on film.
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By 10pm, we decided to head back to the Hotel and Ralph took the wheel for the 50 minute journey.

Phew! What a day. I think our senses had been on overload for most of it due to the stunning scenery – and consequently Ann and I were shattered.

Weather permitting, we’re heading West tomorrow for more exploring.

Nighty-night!

Four go to Iceland – Day 1: Exploring around Reykjavik

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After a lazy breakfast including copious amounts of tea, we reviewed the weather forecast and we decided to explore the local area including a search for suitable restaurants for our evening meals.


Current temperature was around 4 degrees, but as it turned out, today turned into a ‘game of two halves’ temperature-wise. This morning on a local stroll down to the Harbour, and it was positively f-f-f-f-freezing!



It started off as light rain and then along came the wind and plummeting temperatures. Soaking wet and frozen, we headed for the sanctuary of Harpa Concert Hall and stayed longer than we planned. Wow! what a building!! Stunning architecture inside and out plus a great view across the Harbour. When we came out 45 minutes later, the weather was no better, but optimistically, we battled back into town – but then the weather seemed to get worse!!! At that moment, Iceland felt a very bleak to be!!!
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We retreated back to the Hotel where, after a cuppa and time to dry out, we took the car and drove to the Lighthouse at Grotta – about 20 minutes away.  Just as we did so, out came the sun followed by the bluest of skies – and the country was transformed! It felt glorious – in fact, the sun shining through the car window, felt a little TOO WARM! Now that’s more like it Iceland!!!
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Next stop was the 40 minute drive to Akranes, hoping to find the ‘old fishing village’. Well, we drove around for ages… and then some… but we never found it!
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By now, it was turning into a gorgeous day (still cold, but a ‘good’ cold!). We took a few photographs and then spotted a tea-shop – where we took a pit-stop for half-an-hour or so.


We finished our drive by heading back to the Hotel. A quick turn-around followed, and we were soon on our way out for our evening meal – on foot. We walked into town and settled for a small Gastropub we’d seen during our wanderings in the morning – Sata Svinid. The food and service were great, but it was spoiled by the noisy group next to us who were clearly all already p***** when they arrived and insisted on shouting their whole conversation at each other – and then attempting to sing along with the Pub’s music.
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So, we skipped Dessert, because we couldn’t hear our own conversation!, left in a hurry, and decided to take a relaxing walk around the older part of the Town before settling back in some comfy chairs in our Hotel’s Reception. It was much warmer too!

Weather permitting, tomorrow we’re going to head for a drive along the south coast of Iceland.

Four go to Iceland – Arrival

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5.45am: An early start for us on a Saturday. After a quick breakfast with Ralph and Karen (once again our companions for this holiday), it was off to Bedford Station to catch the train to St Pancras International  and then onwards via the Tube to Heathrow, Terminal 5.

Our flight wasn’t until 2.35, so that gave us plenty of time to have a good look round T5 (a Terminal that I don’t know very well). First surprise was that there were no check-in desks (well, hardly any!) for BA – it’s all check-in-and-tag-your-bags-yourself stuff! Except for us, where the auto-check-in didn’t work – because we were too early! So it was back to a good ol’-fashioned face-to-face experience!

10.45am: By 11am we were through security and and looking for somewhere to eat. The first eatery we came across was Giraffe and we were soon perusing the menu.
Giraffe - Terminal 5

Forty-five minutes later, we were all suitably stuffed and so we headed for some comfy seats, whilst we waited for our flight (BA0800) to be called.
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1.45pm: Flight called called and we headed for the Gate. We were soon on-board and the three-hour flight passed very quickly.

After possibly the longest taxi by our plane – 15 minutes before we disembarked – followed by a pretty swift check of our passports, the girls retrieved the luggage whilst Ralph and I headed for the Avis counter to retrieve the hire-car.

Our vehicle-of-choice (or rather Avis’s!) turned out to be an almost new AWD automatic Hyundai SUV complete with studded tyres! Perfect for the varying conditions out here! We loaded up the luggage and Mr Google (and my completely free data package)  guided us perfectly to our home for the next seven nights – the Skuggi Hotel.

7.10pm First impressions? Very friendly people, always smiling! As far as the landscape was concerned, on the journey from the airport, it all looked a bit desolate! The colour scheme was mostly grey (hardly surprising really, considering it’s a volcanic island!) and trees were strangely absent. The roads were almost deserted and that made the journey very relaxing given the unfamiliarity of the roads.

8.05pm After a quick unpack, it was down to the Bar to discuss plans for tomorrow – and of course sample the local ‘water’!
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Depending on the weather, tomorrow looks like we’ll spend it exploring the local area – the capital Reykjavik. Knackered!

9.15pm Knackered!

More tomorrow…
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